Feminist Fathering: “Cool to the Max”

Since I’ve been hanging with my family this week, it occurred to me that it would be fun to ask my dad a few questions about feminist fathering. We have so many examples of anti-feminist fathering around, but it’s rare that we hear from a dad who is truly committed to egalitarian parenting and gender justice. The other thing that makes my dad sort of unique is that he has all the trappings of a traditional dude–white, middle-class, retired lawyer, raised Catholic, likes to talk about the weather and wear embarrassing outfits to bicycle around town–but will surprise you when he drops some serious feminist insights. (He also hasn’t updated his slang since the 80′s, thus the subtitle of this post.) Read on…
Courtney: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Ron: Yes, because I believe in equality in all respects.
Courtney: How do other men react to your feminist identity?
Ron: At first, I found it odd to own the identity among other men, but after awhile it became clear and comfortable. I am guessing that other men may feel the same. I think some men would never call themselves a feminist because they would view, wrongly, that it would mean that they are feminine, and at all costs, do not want to feel that.
Courtney: What do you think are the essential ingredients of feminist fathering?
Ron: Teaching your sons and your daughters that gender should never be a barrier to anything that you want to do. [My dad resigned from the men's only business club in my town when I was a little girl, citing that he didn't want to be a part of any institution that would one day accept his son but not his daughter.] In addition, you have to not only say the right words but you have to live those words. It is particularly important with your daughter, just like your son, to praise them for their minds and intellect, because the world will still tend to only comment on their physicality.


Courtney: What would your advice be to young men who are embarking on fatherhood today?
Ron: They should know that today it is much more likely that their daughters can succeed in what has been a “man’s world,” to achieve whatever they wish to achieve, where in years past, I know that I had some doubt in my own head that that could really happen. I think it is extremely important for men that inspite of getting little or no support at work for spending time with their families that you make sure that you don’t miss the soccer or baseball games of your children. In addition, it is also important to work to change the environment at work to make sure that all men and women feel comfortable leaving early to make sure that they are an active presence on a daily basis in their children’s lives. [At my dad's firm, he was instrumental in getting paternity leave instituted.]
Courtney: Anything else you want people to know?
Ron: Even as it feels like your children are growing quickly, they’re actually growing much faster than you even imagine. It makes it all even more important to spend all the time that you can with them.

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19 Comments

  1. Tara K.
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Aww, Courtney, I want to hug your dad.

  2. TeenMommy
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Courtney. It’s so important to my partner and I that our daughter grows up with a sense of her own potential and a desire to fulfill it. We want her to insist upon being treated like a human being instead of an object. We want her to [insert every feminist, well-adjusted way of being here]. It makes me very happy that my partner, her father, shares these goals with me and identifies as a feminist. I’m going to email him this post.

  3. susanstohelit
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Your dad sounds super cool! My dad always treated me as an equal to my brother, but he didn’t identify as a feminist or take any feminist actions, so it’s awesome to hear of someone who did. Yay for feminist fathering!

  4. Comrade Kevin
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    If I ever choose to be a father someday, I hope to raise a child the way your father did with you. Unfortunately for me, my own father is an example of how to be an anti-feminist.
    And your father is quite right that no man wants to be seen as feminine—that’s one of the reason I fight for gender equality, in the hopes that someday men won’t be afraid of such things. It seems to me as though every man is afraid of not being masculine enough (whatever that is) and every woman is afraid of not being feminine enough (whatever that is). This is why I wish I could eliminate these gender role distinctions altogether because in my opinion, all they do is just create complexes and keep us needlessly separated.

  5. Thomas
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I have blogged a fair amount on F/C and at Yes Means Yes about being a feminist father. I think we probably have made more progress in how men see their daughters than in how men see their sons, and I think the latter is where we have the farthest to go.

  6. TeenMommy
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    That’s an interesting point, Thomas. You may be right. I know a lot of men who have broad ideas about what their daughters can and should do, but very narrow ideas about the doors that should be open to their sons.

  7. Zoe
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I hope future generations of fathers will turn out like him :)

  8. Amanda_Stein
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Totally agree with you, Kevin. I cannot wait for people to be free to be themselves, regardless of how appropriate it seems for their sex. I think we all will be so so much happier when that day comes.
    And THANK YOU for posting this, Courtney. I needed some warm fuzzies on the feminist front. Please give your Father a huge hug and thank you from me.
    Man I love this site.

  9. jason_
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    This comment replies to Comrade_Kevin and Amanda_Stein.
    I actually tend to disagree with the idea of eliminating gender role distinctions; I fully support eliminating gender role expectations or pressures, and also with the idea of of eliminating binary concepts of gender identity (which can create implicit pressures to conform and restrict one’s way of being).
    But presumably there ought to be language for conceptualizing and articulating gender role-associated preferences for one’s relationships and for one’s own personality choices, not to reencode the restrictions to which you rightly object (in effect, calling for a form of negative liberty, “freedom from”), but to enable positive freedom as well (”freedom to” be oneself more fully). Thus, one should be able to say, “Other things equal, I tend to be attacted to really butch women”; or, “You know, I have never really experimented with cultivating my femme side, especially around so-and-so; I think I’m shy about doing that but I’m also really curious about it”; and so forth.

  10. jason_
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    This comment replies to Comrade_Kevin and Amanda_Stein.
    I actually tend to disagree with the idea of eliminating gender role distinctions; I fully support eliminating gender role expectations or pressures, and also with the idea of of eliminating binary concepts of gender identity (which can create implicit pressures to conform and restrict one’s way of being).
    But presumably there ought to be language for conceptualizing and articulating gender role-associated preferences for one’s relationships and for one’s own personality choices, not to reencode the restrictions to which you rightly object (in effect, calling for a form of negative liberty, “freedom from”), but to enable positive freedom as well (”freedom to” be oneself more fully). Thus, one should be able to say, “Other things equal, I tend to like really butch women”; or, “I have never really experimented with showing my femme side around so-and-so; I think I’m shy about doing that but I’m also really curious about it”; and so forth.

  11. TeenMommy
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    I’ve really liked every post of yours that I’ve seen so far. Way to go you. :p

  12. Kate_MS
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Courtney. As young, feminist parents, my husband and I were heart warmed to read this.

  13. Darkmoon
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Your dad *is* “cool to the max*!
    I remember how disappointed I was when my Dad was surprised that I don’t cook dinner for my husband every night. Both of my parents didn’t quite know what to think about my husband and I sharing cooking duty. He makes what he wants to eat and if I will eat it, he makes enough for two. Same deal with me.

  14. Amanda_Stein
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Hmm – I think I actually took what Kevin said to be defined very similarly *maybe even exactly* to what you’re saying. I do definitely encourage and long for “freedom from” as well as “freedom to be” – which is what I mean by not having gender distinctions.
    At least I *think* we’re on the same page here? I have been incredibly strung out for the last month, so I may not be thinking clearly. Big apologies if I’m misunderstanding or not articulating myself well – I would not be surprised at all if that was the case. :)

  15. Simplejewel
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Awww, I love, love, love this.
    My father is also a feminist dad. And my father is also (at first look) the anti-thesis of a feminist.
    He was the child of an alcoholic and abusive father (so that statistically, he should be one too). He is ex-military, a big martial artist, the director of an IT company, a sports coach and a big outdoorsman.
    And yet, he not only talks the feminist talk, but walks it too. He came into a new (very man dominated) business and demanded better pay and job equity for the lone female employee who had been busting her ass for years to no avail. He is a big advocate of womyn in sport and don’t even get me started on the amount of angry Letters to the Editor my father has sent in response to misogyny and sexism.
    I really feel like your father and mine are great examples of the way in which masculinity can be embraced by feminists. I believe that men can be feminists (or feminist allies) and not be feminine. They can respect femininity and yet live and honour themselves, too.

  16. kat
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I agree. I’m a mother to two boys, and I find it harder to easily inject feminism in to our household than I think it would if I had a girl.
    Maybe I’m underestimating my spouse and myself; about a year ago we switched roles and I’m the primary breadwinner and he’s home with the boys more, doing more of the household management. So in that sense, we’re modeling equal opportunity.
    On the other hand, my husband is very much in to more stereotypically male hobbies (mechanics, building things) and I’m in to more stereotypical “female” activities (cooking, gardening, interior design.) We both make an effort to try to point out people we know who do defy these stereotypes (his female friends who are great mechanics, our male friend who loves to cook.) I’ve succeeded in getting the boys interested in cooking, but other than that they are much more interested in their dad’s hobbies.
    I don’t know if it’s just because I’m coming from the female perspective, but somehow I think I would have had an easier time raising a girl who would have been more balanced. But that’s all hypothetical.
    Maybe the frustration is that I think if I’d had a girl, maybe I would have some tangible evidence right now that we’d had some effect; like she’d be out in the garage with her dad. The work I’m doing with my boys is stuff that I’ll probably only see further down the road: how they treat their girlfriends and partners (if they are straight); how they treat the women around them, etc.

  17. kat
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Interesting.. I’d never really thought of my dad as a feminist dad, but I suppose he was.
    My sister and I were always encouraged just as much as our brother, and were expected to have careers. Any career, not just typical “female” ones.
    He didn’t do much in being involved in family life, or advocating for that, but my dad did push to have my aunt admitted to a club he was active in; women were allowed to participate, but could only have membership through their husbands. My aunt was divorced.
    He worked with women as peers, and always talked about them the same way he talked about his male peers.
    So I guess in many respects, he was a feminist dad.
    BTW – that same aunt, is quite conservative socially and politically, so I never have thought of her as a feminist role model. But she also joined another “old boys” club in our town. This one organized a parade every year, and some leader was chosen to be the Mr. (Club). He’d ride on a float parade surrounded by pretty young girls (blech.) My aunt lobbied and became the first Ms (Club) and had her two adult sons on the float with her, as well as the pretty girls. (I think there was only so much she could do.)

  18. meegs
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Another child of a feminist father, right here! I can definitely attest to how important it is. My grandfather was also, in his way, a feminist. Both men encouraged me fully without gender bias, and my father continues to this day to be a staunch defender of equal rights for everybody. Feeling very blessed.

  19. MikeT
    Posted September 9, 2009 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    As the father of a daughter, thanks for telling us about your dad.

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